The knowledge of Irish consumers about antibiotics may be above-average among EU citizens but 1 in 3 are still unaware that they are ineffective against viruses like colds and flu, a new EU-wide study has shown.
The research revealed that 66% of Irish adults correctly knew that antibiotics do not kill viruses — the fourth highest level of awareness among the 27 EU member states where the average was 50%.
The Eurobarometer survey also revealed that the level of use of antibiotics across Europe has fallen to a record low with only 23% of EU citizens saying they had used antibiotics in the previous 12 months.
The survey of 26,500 people across the EU in early 2022, including over 1,000 in the Republic, showed the figure in Ireland was just above the EU average at 24%.
The level of use of antibiotics by Irish people has fallen from 40% since a similar survey was previously conducted in 2018 — one of the largest percentage decreases within the EU.
However, only 42% of respondents in Ireland said they had taken a test to establish the cause of their illness before taking a course of antibiotics — the joint 5th lowest rate in the EU.
At the same time, 85% admitted they knew that the unnecessary use of antibiotics makes them become less effective.
Concern about the use of antibiotics has grown due to increasing levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by so-called “superbugs” which have been linked to the incorrect use of antibiotics.
It is estimated that antimicrobial resistance was responsible for 4.95 million deaths around the world in 2019 as well as costing more than €1.5bn each year for EU health systems in terms of healthcare costs and productivity losses.
A European Commission spokesperson said the possible effects of Covid-19 on accelerating AMR was concerning, particularly if antibiotics were not used prudently.
Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections or strep throat but have no effect against viral infections such as Covid-19, colds, flu, and most types of sore throat, bronchitis, sinus, and ear infections.
While the survey showed that the most common reason Europeans take antibiotics is to treat urinary tract infections, they also cited sore throat, bronchitis, colds, and flu as regular reasons to take them.
In Ireland, a sore throat was the most common reason given why people take antibiotics with 19% of adults in the Republic saying they used them for such a purpose.
Irish people were less likely to use antibiotics for the treatment of fever, Covid-19, and the common cold than most other Europeans.
However, Ireland was the only EU country where less than half of all people said they would always consult a doctor when they think they need antibiotics.
In addition, 10% of Irish people said they would give left-over antibiotics to relatives and friends when they were ill – up from just 4% in 2018.
The survey also revealed that Irish people are the most supportive Europeans for the use of antibiotics with sick animals when they are the most appropriate treatment.
It showed 85% of Irish people were in favour of treating sick animals with antibiotics compared to the EU average of 64%.